Egg plant loses bid to suppress animal activist's evidence

ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. - Two officials with one of the state's largest egg producers on Tuesday lost an effort to suppress evidence collected by an animal rights activist who worked undercover last year at their Mount Joy farm.

A district judge ruled that there was no evidence that John Brothers acted as an agent of the animal welfare officer who based dozens of animal cruelty charges against the chief executive and manager of Esbenshade Farms on Brothers' videotape from the egg plant.

The defendants' lawyers had argued the surreptitious taping may have violated constitutional search-and-seizure rules, but District Judge Jayne F. Duncan ruled against them and said she would schedule the case for trial.

"The issue today was whether or not the investigation was in any way conducted by the state so that the constitution would be implicated, and it wasn't," said Christopher P. Lyden, a private attorney prosecuting the case on behalf of humane society police officer Johnna L. Seeton.

Brothers testified that he lived at a motel while working at the egg plant about 20 miles southeast of Harrisburg in late November and early December. Animal welfare officials said he found chickens impaled by their cages' wires, unable to reach food or water and penned with decomposing bodies of dead hens. They said birds also were kept in cages so small they could not spread their wings and exhibited untreated illnesses or injuries.

Seeton filed summary charges in January against chief executive H. Glenn Esbenshade and farm manager Jay Musser after Brothers and another member of the Washington-based group Compassion Over Killing provided her with the video.

Michael T. Winters, attorney for the defendants, said the animal cruelty statute cannot be enforced against "a normal agricultural operation," which his clients insist they engage in.

"It's what's the legal standard versus what's somebody else's standards," Winters said. "Other people and other special interest groups may have other standards they believe should be applied, but we're dealing with the legal standard here."

Brothers said he was employed by Compassion Over Killing before and after his time at the farm, but not during the brief period he worked there. Compassion Over Killing focuses on the abuse of animals raised for food.

The animal cruelty charges carry potential fines of $50 to $750 and 90 days in jail per violation, Seeton said.


Compassion Over Killing: